Standing outside everything looks a bit black. Dull and black. Like a big black metal box looming over you. It’s sort of there and not there at the same time. There are very few windows and nothing to inform you as to what’s going on inside. If I’m going to be honest, despite what I’d heard. I felt a bit underwhelmed as I climbed the steps.
Booking? Yes, I emailed a few days ago. Please follow me sir.
Walking inside is like being subsumed into a black hole before rapidly teleporting onto the bridge of The Heart Of Gold. And then the infinite improbability drive kicks in. It can’t be this big inside? Where did the noise come from and the people?
Second impressions? Wow! It’s not a toy train factory. And you really do need to book, certainly on a Saturday night. Either that or wait in line for hours, and even then you might get shoved onto a bit of a side table or up on the mezzanine floor. There is no standing up drinking here.
For maximum effect you need to be in the main auditorium, or whatever you call a beer hall fashioned from 38 shipping containers. The lighting is theatrical, the 20hl brewery glows martian red through a glass screen behind the bar no one stands at. Bright fluorescent stalactites point down from the ceiling. Where there’s light it’s bold and intense and where there isn’t it’s shadow. Even the walk from the nearby U-Bahn station is industrial chiaroscuro.
A huge tap list hangs like the scoreboard at Headingley and they’ve got more beers up than England’s openers got runs in two recent test matches. The young manager explained it all to me but I could only take in half of what she said, something about it being okay to take pictures and they had arranged for me to have a look in the brewery if I wanted.
Eleven of the twenty available draught beers were brewed by BRLO, or were collaborations, the rest being from other small Berlin breweries. Prices varied according to ABV. I quickly deduced that for maximum value and tasting experience, especially for the stronger beers, the tasting flight at €9.5 for five 0.15L samples was the way to go.
I started with Scatterbrained a 5.5% DDH Pale ale from Fuerst Wiacek, my notes just say ‘awesome’.
Second up was C4PO a 7% West Coast IPA from BRLO. Nice, but I wished I’d tasted it before the lower ABV Scatterbrained.
Down a 7.5% DIPA with CBD Hemp from BRLO x Run The Jewels came next. CBD is a a non psychoactive derivative of Cannabis, I’m not sure whether it did me any good, the beer was alright but I wouldn’t be rushing back for it.
Fourth was Superfreundes The future looks bright, a 6.5% IPA, and again was decent.
Fifth was Pohjaniel from Pühaste, an accomplished 9.3% Imperial baltic Rye Porter that was molasses meets liquorice and malts in a sherry cask. I don’t know whether it actually was aged in a sherry cask, but that’s my guess.
I could have left it after 0.75L of what were in the main, quite strong ales, especially after the amazing scran. Thing was, I just couldn’t resist trying a third (0.3L) of BRLO Baltic Porter. It said it was 7%, but it doesn’t taste like it. It just slid down, dangerously so. Very nice and an easy 4* in my book.
Mrs C tried a Weizen My Ass a 5% hefeweizen from BRLO. Like a Hefewiezen but more refined, cleaner, more elegant perhaps.
At the opposite end to the bar, under the mezzanine floor is the kitchen. You can watch the chefs beavering away. The food was heavily vegetarian based with a focus on smoked and fermented. You could have meat but we didn’t bother. For a main, a side and an accompaniment it was €18. Everything was delicious, interesting and almost challenging. Vegetarian cuisine of the highest calibre.
The next time I visit BRLO it will be in the summer when the Biergarten is in operation. I had a wander outside. It’s quite large with enough tables to seat an awful lot of people. In the meantime visitors who must go outside will have to content themselves with the smoking balcony.
So was it all smoke and mirrors? Just a bit pricey for another pretentious craft beer place?
It wasn’t hard to see through the slick presentation and see a big Q for Quality running through everything they do. I couldn’t fault anything from the moment I walked in, to the Dyson hand dryers in the exceptional toilet facilities.
I never mind spending my cash when what I get is as good as this. Looking at the crowd on a Saturday night, this is the way to get quality craft beers into the mainstream market without diluting what good beer is all about.
I liked the way they have taken what is a German tradition of beer hall and beer garden and transformed it into something new (not that there is anything wrong with the original tradition), something that rises above all the monotonous craft beer bars. Something that is unique, yet at the same time delivers an experience of the highest level. And despite brewing some really cool beers BRLO’s core range is still concentrated on traditional styles.
To sum up, this is the coolest place I’ve drank in. I failed dismally in my earlier attempts to find David Bowie in Berlin if BRLO had been here forty years ago then he would have been a regular visitor to this Blackstar.
BRLO Is the Slavic origin of the name Berlin. You can find them at Park am Gleisdreieck, literally two minutes walk from the Gleisdreieck U-bahnhof, which conversely is above ground at this point.